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A trafficked girl escapes her captors and rebuilds her life

Her new friends call her Coco.

She is one of the more than 1 million children trafficked worldwide every year.

When she was growing up in Romania, Coco would help out at home every day while struggling to stay in school. Then, when she was nine, her father left the family. Her mother was disabled by mental illness, and the family had to support itself by begging. For a while, Coco’s older sister worked to support them, but then decided that it was too difficult and left the family too. They never heard from her again. So when Coco was 18 and a friend offered to take her to Ireland for a job in a restaurant, she jumped at the chance.

“My friend’s sister and a man waited at the airport,” Coco says. “They imprisoned me in an apartment. My friend’s sister was there all the time, and they forced me to work as a prostitute. I tried to escape many times, but I didn’t succeed and I was beaten.”

After two months, the police uncovered the trafficking ring and Coco was freed.

Scared and isolated, Coco returned to Romania with the help of the International Organization for Migration. She stayed for six months at one of the organization’s shelters, where she found people she could trust and who would help her move forward with her life.

Coco decided to go back to school and graduated from high school in a year. She also studied computers and secretarial skills while working as a waitress at a small restaurant. After graduation, she shared an apartment with four other girls who were also victims of trafficking. The residence is protected by ADPARE, a Romanian non-governmental organization that specializes in anti-trafficking work. The president of ADPARE, Gina Stoian, noticed that Coco liked to help other people with their problems. From the beginning, she was supportive and friendly with the other girls who had endured the same terrible ordeal she had.

“Now I am in my first year at the university studying social work,” notes Coco. “But I also work with ADPARE to assist in reintegrating other victims of trafficking.”

Coco was driven by poverty to migrate in search of a job. It is widely estimated that women make up the majority of the world’s poor. If poverty is to become history, gender inequality must first be eliminated. Read more about the importance of gender equality.